Background information on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
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Origins and composition
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a body which was provided for in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and which was formally established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on 1 March 1999. It comprises a full-time Chief Commissioner and nine part-time Commissioners, all of whom have been appointed initially for a three-year period. The Chief Commissioner is Professor Brice Dickson. The other Commissioners are Ms Christine Bell. Mrs Margaret-Ann Dinsmore QC, Mr Tom Donnelly MBE JP DL, Rev Harold Good OBE, Professor Tom Hadden. Ms Angela Hegarty, Ms Patricia Kelly, Ms Iñez McCormack and Mr Frank McGuinness.
The Commission is funded by the Northern Ireland Office, receiving £750,000 in its first financial year. but otherwise the Commission is completely independent from government. It is accountable. through the Secretary of State. to Parliament at Westminster and is subject to oversight by the UK Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
The Human Rights Commission is currently based at Temple Court, 3941 North Street, Belfast BTI INA (tel: 01232-243987), but it will probably be moving premises later in 1999.
Under section 69 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission has the following duties:
In addition, under the same section, the Commission has the following powers:
The Commission has adopted the following Mission Statement based on the above statutory duties and powers:
Planning and staffing
The Commission is in the process of drawing up a three-year Strategic Plan. It is likely that this will be issued for consultation in July 1999, with a final version being published (after comments on the draft have been taken on board) in October 1999. Ultimately the Commission is likely to employ about 12 staff In this first wave of appointments the Commission is seeking to appoint six staff The Commission expects to advertise a second wave of posts (including, probably, those of Chief of Education Research and Information and Chief of Casework and Investigations) before the end of 1999.
Relationships with other bodies
The Commission will be operating alongside various other statutory bodies which have a role to play in upholding human rights in Northern Ireland.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
The Equality Commission is in the process of being established and is expected to be up and running in the summer of 1999. It will be an amalgamation of four existing bodies:
The Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland
The Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland
The Commission for Racial Equality (Northern Ireland)
The Northern Ireland Disability Council
In addition. the Equality Commission will oversee the equality schemes which all public authorities now have to draw up. It will be able to proof these from the point of view of equality based on age, sexual orientation and family status (as well as on the grounds mentioned above).
The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
The Police Ombudsman’s office is also in the process of being established and is expected to be up and running by the end of 1999. It will be responsible for investigating complaints made against the police in Northern Ireland and will take over the functions formerly exercised by the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. The address of the ICPC is Chamber of Commerce House, 22 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7LP (tel: 01232-244821).
The Criminal Cases Review CommissionAlthough based in Birmingham, the Criminal Cases Review Commission also deals with cases arising in Northern Ireland. It looks at alleged miscarriages of justice in criminal cases and can recommend that a case be sent back to the Court of Appeal for a retrial. The CCRC’s address is Alpha Tower, Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham B1 1TT (tel: 0121-633-1800).
The Assembly OmbudsmanKnown as the Parliamentary Ombudsman until the Northern Ireland Assembly is operational, the Assembly Ombudsman deals with complaints of maladministration made against Northern Ireland Government Departments. "Maladministration" includes neglect. delay and arbitrariness. Complaints will be dealt with only if they are "sponsored" by a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Ombudsman’s address is Progressive House, 33 Wellington Place, Belfast BT1 6HN (tel: 01232-233821).
The Commissioner for ComplaintsThis official (the same person as the Assembly Ombudsman) deals with complaints of maladministration made against local district councils and other "quangos" in Northern Ireland (e.g. Education and Library Boards, Health and Social Services Boards, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, etc). Complaints do not have to be "sponsored" by an elected politician. The address of the Commissioner for Complaints is Progressive House, 33 Wellington Place, Belfast BT1 6HN (tel: 01232-233821).
The United Kingdom Ombudsman
The UK Ombudsman - officially known as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration - deals with complaints of maladministration against UK Government Departments, including the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Court Service, the Inland Revenue and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission itself. Complaints are dealt with only if they are "sponsored" by an MP. The Ombudsman’s address is Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BW (tel: 0171-276-3000).
The Parades Commission
The Parades Commission decides which parades should be allowed to proceed in Northern Ireland, and along which routes. It operates under the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998. Its address is 12th floor, Windsor House, 6-12 Bedford Street, Belfast BT2 7EL (tel: 01232-895900).
The Sentence Review Commissioners
The Sentence Review Commissioners make recommendations concerning the release of prisoners, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement 1998. They operate under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Their address is 5th floor, Windsor House, 6-12 Bedford Street, Belfast BT2 7EL (tel: 01232-549412).
The Victims Liaison Unit
The Victims Liaison Unit is a unit within government which supports the implementation of the Bloomfield Report (1998) into victims’ rights. Its address is Room 123, Stormont House Annex, Stormont Estate, Belfast BT4 3ST (tel: 01232-527900).
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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